Incredible though it seems, over 11 percent of Americans now have diabetes, and the rate keeps climbing. In another few years, at the current pace of increase, a full 15 percent of the population will have the disease according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. And those figures only count the people who already have been diagnosed with diabetes. An NIH study earlier this year found that 13 percent of the population already has the disease, though many of those haven't yet been diagnosed. Plus, if you count pre-diabetics, the numbers skyrocket. A few years ago, when "only" seven percent of the population had been diagnosed with diabetes, another 20 percent qualified as pre-diabetic, and among the 40 to 74-year-old set, the pre-diabetic rate registered at an astronomical 40 percent. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. According to the US Government, one third of all children currently in the population pipeline will eventually become diabetic -- half if they are black or Hispanic.
Translated into numbers, at least 26 million Americans now are diabetic and 37 million will be by 2015. This represents a more than 90 percent increase in the past decade. And the increase extends to other countries, as well. In Mexico, diabetes has become the number one cause of death, and yet, the disease hardly existed in that country just 10 years ago. Worldwide, 30 million people had diabetes in 1985, but by 2000, that number had increased almost 700 percent to 150 million. (As a side note, no health care system in the world can accommodate those kinds of numbers when it comes to long-term medical care. The costs are beyond astronomical.)
The blame, experts say, rests in the ballooning numbers of obese individuals. While it is true that diabetes runs in families, it's also true that the fatter you are, the greater the chance that you'll become diabetic. According to Gallup Healthways, "More than one-fifth of obese adults [have diabetes]" -- or 21.2%, compared to 7.4% of non-obese people of comparable ages." It's no coincidence that obesity rates have increased one percent since last year, keeping perfect pace with diabetes, which also increased one percent.
The disease demolishes health, causing neuropathy, kidney damage, heart disease, stroke, and wounds that don't heal. Diabetes related infections lead to 150,000 amputations annually in the US.) Plus, it causes retinopathy, which can lead to blindness, and in fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the US.
Diabetes also is a problem for the pocketbook (unless you happen to be a stakeholder in a pharmaceutical company that manufactures diabetes drugs). Articles in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicate that spending on diabetes drugs has doubled since 2002, with annual expenditures exceeding $12.5 billion!
But the expensive drugs do nothing to heal or prevent diabetes; they merely control or treat symptoms. If obesity triggers the disease, then to intervene in the diabetes epidemic, lots of people need to lose weight. Exercising even a minimal amount not only takes pounds off, but slashes diabetes risk. The study found that those who had exercised for 30 minutes at least four times the previous week had almost half the incidence of diabetes compared to those who hadn't done any exercise.
While the diabetes drug industry keeps blossoming, fewer and fewer people are making the lifestyle modifications that might prevent diabetes in the first place. Gallup-Healthways found "a 2009 decline of 2.7 points in the percentage of American adults who say they are exercising at least 30 minutes three or more times per week, compared with 2008."
And yet, a study just published in The Lancet found that lifestyle changes trump drugs in diabetes prevention. In fact, the study, which involved 3000 pre-diabetic patients followed for 10 years, found that lifestyle modifications resulting in a weight loss of even a few pounds were roughly twice as effective as medications. The researchers found that those who exercised 30 minutes five times a week plus stuck to a low-fat diet reduced diabetes incidence by 34 percent over the 10 years compared to a control group that implemented no changes. Those who took the diabetes drug metformin instead of trying lifestyle modifications reduced incidence by only 18 percent. The impact of lifestyle modifications was particularly notable in those over 60 years of age.
The advantage of modifying diet and exercising rather than popping pills extends beyond the fact that the lifestyle changes work better. Getting in shape means keeping the body working well, whereas diabetes drugs don't improve the natural functioning of the body. Plus, they cause all sorts of side effects. Metformin is considered one of the more benign diabetes pharmaceuticals, and yet, it commonly causes digestive problems and gastrointestinal distress, and can cause more serious conditions such as lactic acidosis and heart failure.
As I've written before, forcing blood sugar levels down with medications does nothing to relieve the underlying diabetic condition. It merely suppresses just one of its manifestations. If you want to prevent and reverse diabetes, you have to reduce sugar intake, reduce insulin resistance, improve beta cell function in the pancreas, and protect and repair insulin/sugar damage to mission critical organs in the body. And you have to do all of these things all at once.
It's the same old story all over again. There's no substitute for avoiding obesity in the first place by eating well and exercising. But if you've already crossed the line to become diabetic or at high risk for diabetes, you'll still benefit from utilizing natural methods for regulating blood sugar metabolism.